The left-wing government in Norway apologizes to Muslims worldwide for the publication of twelve Muhammad cartoons [see them here] in the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet. Oslo sent out instructions to all the Norwegian embassies on how to respond to queries about the cartoons. Unlike the Danish government, the Norwegian government is not concerned about safeguarding the right to freedom of expression. Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, a leading member of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party, wrote the following e-mail to the Norwegian embassies:
I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.
The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the
bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.
Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.
Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.
Opposition politicians reacted to this message with indignation. Jon Lilletun, the spokesman on foreign policy for the Christian-democrat Kristelig Folkeparti, points out that it is not the ministry’s task to express an opinion on the content of the cartoons. Carl I. Hagen, the leader of the Progress Party, fears that freedom of expression is being swept under the carpet.
Magazinet published the cartoons in support of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which after publishing the drawings last September has been threatened with revenge by Muslim extremists. According to Islam it is blasphemy to depict Muhammad. The Danish government has consistently refused to give in to demands from Islamic countries that it apologize for the publication of the cartoons and introduce censorship.
As we noted before it is striking to see how Norwegian politics differs from Danish politics. The Norwegian Foreign Minister’s e-mail was meant to be confidential and not to be disclosed to the Norwegian public, “because,” as the Foreign Ministry wrote, “that would look rather stupid in the Norwegian press.” Apparently Muslims abroad are more deserving of respect than one’s own citizens.
Meanwhile the cartoon controversy drags on in Denmark. Saudi Arabia has called its ambassador to Copenhagen home for consultation. In Saudi Arabia there are calls to boycott Danish products and some Danish companies are already losing customers. As a consequence the Danish government felt obliged to actively contact Saudi religious leaders, while the Danish ambassador to Riyadh participated in a debate on Saudi national television. Still it came as a complete surprise to Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller when Saudi Arabia called its ambassador home for consultation.
More on the Danish cartoon case:
Jihad Against Danish Paper, 22 October 2005
Cartoon Case Escalates into International Crisis, 27 October 2005
Out of the Iranian Frying Pan into the Danish Fire, 29 October 2005
Pigs Do Not Fly, 17 November 2005
Dispatch from the Eurabian Front, 9 December 2005
Danish Cartoon Affair: Letter from a Muslim, 31 December 2005
Danish Muslims Divided over Cartoon Affair, 8 January 2006
Danish Prime Minister Shocked at Lies, 11 January 2006
Scandinavian Update: Israeli Boycott, Muslim Cartoons, 14 January 2006
Denmark: Moderate Muslims Oppose Imams, 19 January 2006
Danish Imams Propose to End Cartoon Case, 22 January 2006
European Appeasement Reinforces Muslim Extremism, 24 January 2006